At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers best team at Fenway this summer
Wicked Local Dedham, August 31st

It's no easy thing to keep a band together and vital for roughly four decades, nor is it a simple thing to craft that kind of career where the artist or group never falls out of favor, or loses the worldwide audience that was so hard to win in the...Read more

Local musician Joe Bethancourt dies at 68
azcentral.com, August 30th

A regular at Funny Fellows for 15 years, Bethancourt played more than 65 musical instruments, from banjo to mandolin, 12-string guitar, Cittern, bagpipes, Celtic harp, lute and Ozark mouthbow. "Most of the instruments I play are stringed, and many of...Read more

Deep Beatles: “You Can't Do That” from A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Something Else! Reviews, August 29th

(Only four takes were complete.) As the Beatles Bible notes, the song marks the first time Harrison used his soon-to-be-trademark Rickenbacker 12-string guitar. As previously mentioned, “You Can't Do That” also features Lennon's lead guitar debut on a ...Read more

Track By Track: Tijuana Cartel – '24 Bit Guitar Orchestra'
Tone Deaf, August 28th

“Conquering Tiamat, the primordial sea, Marduk rises to become leader of the watchers. And so here we loose ourselves in the warm waters of 12 String guitar and Santoor, only to arise at a shore of solid drum and bass and journey forward to a...Read more

New Releases From Brad Paisley and Ty Segall
New York Times, August 25th

This kind of tension juices up the best of the songs, which want to explode but stay on track. “The Clock,” with a 12-string guitar and a string section, sounds like something from Love's “Forever Changes,” but understood by someone with a natural...Read more

Scott Matthews review – engagingly thoughtful and classy singer-songwriter
The Guardian, August 19th

He strapped on a harmonica, which made a curious blend with the cello, for the drifting and tuneful The Outsider, and showed off his folk-blues roots by switching to 12-string guitar for a gutsy revival of Passing Stranger from 2006, before, of course...Read more

Mark Lewisohn, Mike Pender are among the celeb lineup at The Fest for Beatles ...
Chicago Sun-Times, August 15th

That's his tribute to George Harrison, who inspired him to buy the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar that became a big part of the sound for the Searchers, a Liverpool band who had seven Top-40 hits in the U.S. and 12 in the U.K.. “We were in the TV studio...Read more

Bat: His music is unique and he's bringing it to Dover
Foster's Daily Democrat, August 11th

This CD features some of the finest 12 string guitar playing anywhere, but also includes some compositions for nylon-string Classical guitar, Ukulele, and an Acapella doo-wop piece. The songs and complete CD ('Digital Sculpture' released 4 /14) will be ...Read more